Over the years of teaching meditation, a common question is emerged: "how do I know if I am transcending?" The basic instruction for the process of meditation is very, very simple: think the mantra as a effortlessly as any other thought and if other thoughts come, do not mind them and just come back to the mantra; take it as it comes. We understand that the mantra is a vehicle of transcending, but exactly what does that mean? What is transcending? Transcending is easy to experience but requires many words to describe! To transcend means to go beyond. But beyond what? Beyond the physical mind to the subtler minds. Look at this image that depicts the 5 koshas or bodies that we all have: Five Koshas Each kosha has its own mind and the Anandamaya Kosha is the mind of the universe. So we transcend from tiny individual physical-based mind to the vast, unbounded mind of the universe. When we accomplish this level of transcending we have achieved a glimpse of Moksha. When we can maintain our awareness on the level of Anandamaya Kosha, we have achieved Moksha. First, it is important when thinking the mantra that we do not try to pronounce it clearly in the mind. We should just have a faint idea of the mantra in the mind. Feeling the vibration of the mantra is the same as having the mantra in the mind as a faint idea. For example, you can speak the mantra out loud and that uses the mind to think, the vocal cords in the throat to make sound and the lips and mouth and air passing through is also employed. Then you can whisper the mantra, not using the vocal cords at all, just the mind, air, lips and mouth are employed. More subtle is to think the mantra in the mind alone, using only the mind. But notice you can think the mantra clearly and that is more gross than thinking the mantra as a faint idea in the mind. When you think the mantra as just a faint idea and do not try to pronounce it clearly in the mind; just the idea of the mantra, that is feeling the vibration of the mantra. Also to speak the mantra out loud requires effort to make that sound, even a whisper requires some effort of the body. Pronouncing the mantra clearly in the mind requires effort as well, effort in the mind. But to feel the mantra as a faint idea is effortless. That is our objective, effortless thinking of the mantra. When we reach this level of thinking we are at the boundary of the anamaya kosha, just about to transcend to pranamaya kosha. Then we be even more gentle in our thinking of the mantra and it becomes just a faint idea in the physical mind and the attention slips into the prana mind, using the mantra as a vehicle or focal point. We feel the transition to a state of relative unbounded awareness. Our awareness is no longer bound by the physical mind and physical experience. We are experiencing a new realm of existence through our prana mind and this is not a physical realm. It is pure energy of the prana field. Then once in the prana mind the process of transcending continues and we realize that we can think the mantra in the prana mind ever so much more effortlessly as an even fainter idea and we reach the boundary of the pranamaya kosha and by becoming even more effortless in our thinking we again transcend beyond the prana mind to the manomaya kosha. Again we experience a huge expansion of awareness, and our body seems to be limitless and this transcendence is far greater than what we experienced in pranamaya kosha. Yet we sense that we can think the mantra ever so much more faintly, and we allow the manomaya kosha mind to think the mantra as an even fainter idea that ever before and we come to the boundary of the manomaya kosha. Relaxing the focus of the mind even more, allow the manomaya kosha mind to think the mantra as an even fainter idea, and we transcend again and find ourselves in the vast, seemingly limitless expanse of the vijñanamaya kosha. We may even think this is the ultimate expansion of awareness, we have arrived at the Goal, there can be no further expansion of awareness possible, but we do not stop there and allow the mantra to refine even more, to become even more subtle in the vijñanamaya kosha mind as a even more faint idea until we reach the boundary if the vijñanamaya kosha. Then we transcend again and the expansion is so vast it cannot be compared at all to the previous states. We have arrived at the Goal, at Anandamaya Kosha. The mantra cannot be refined further, we are the entire universe, there is no limit to our awareness at all, truly unbounded awareness. The practical experience is we may reach any one of these levels then be interrupted by a thought passing through the mind. If there is a sense of interruption caused by that thought, it will break the flow and slow down the progress. So we allow thoughts to come up, as if in the background of the mind. In the foreground we are thinking the mantra but in the background there can be a thought or even a sensory experience of some sound in the room or some light flickering in the closed eyes through the eyelids or some feeling of the body, or a slight smell. All of these thoughts and sensory experiences are relegated to the back of the mind and just ignored, we pay no attention to these things. Our full attention is on the mantra. In practical experience it may seem that 90% of our attention is on the mantra and perhaps 10% is on the background processes. As we continue practice, this ratio may change from 90:10 to 95:5 then 98:2 and ultimately 100% absorption in the mantra. We are not trying to do anything at this stage, we are simply pointing our mind in the direction of 100% absorption in the mantra to the exclusion of all other sensory inputs. doshasWe can practice meditation at any time and in any place, but some times and places are more conducive to transcending than others. The period of Brahmamuhurtha (starting at 96 minutes before sunrise) is an excellent time to meditate because the mind is inherently still at that time of day. Another great time to meditate is 96 minutes before sunset. These periods are good for meditation due to the natural cycles of the body that relate to the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. The kapha period starts at sunrise and extends for 5 murhurtas (a period of 48 minutes) or 4 hours. The vata period starts 5 murhurtas before sunset and the pitta period is the time between kapha and vata in the middle of the day. At night the kapha period begins at sunset and extends for 5 murhurtas and the vata period begins 5 murhurtas before sunrise, with the pitta period in the time between kapha and vata. For modern life simplicity, these periods are set by the clock instead of sunrise and sunset: From sunrise until 10:00am is the time of Kapha; from 10:00am until 2:00pm is Pitta time; and from 2:00pm until sunset (6:00pm) is the time of Vata. The evening follows a similar pattern, from 6:00pm until 10:00pm is the time of Kapha, from 10:00pm until 2:00am is the time of Pitta, and from 2:00am until 6:00am is Vata time. Group MeditationMeditation is deeper and more profound if done in a group of 2 or more individuals. Anyone who meditates will attest to this experience. Why is that? There are a number of reasons (from Yoga International): Everything is better when shared—including meditation. Just like music, meditation can be enjoyed on its own or with others who dance to the same beat. You can feel a real connection with others by tapping into the same silence and source of peace at the same time. In fact, we can literally meet people on the same wavelength: recorded EEG results show that brainwaves synchronize while meditating. Meditating with a group helps to develop a habit. It's easy to find excuses not to meditate at home. Just like meeting friends at the gym for group fitness class can motivate you to work out, finding a meditation group can provide the necessary encouragement for developing a consistent practice. Feedback is available. Meditation groups often include practitioners of varying levels. If you're new to meditation, you might find that other members of your group can help clear up any confusion you may have over different types of meditation, help you find answers addressing difficulties with practice, and provide feedback regarding experiences that arise during the meditation process. Joining a group is actually physically good for us. According to the book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" by Robert D. Putnam, joining a group can cut your risk of dying in the next year in half! Loneliness is now proven to be bad for our health. An environment of acceptance and belonging are perfect conditions under which social animals like us can thrive Be a part of the bigger picture. A group can better support an individual’s inward journey. It's inspiring and motivating to connect with others who share our intentions for world peace. It is easier to apply Gandhi’s suggestion to “be the change you wish to see in the world” when you are part of a collective crowd. According to Andrew Kelley at The Boston Buddha, it is also a good way to “collectively unify and add strength to our intentions” with a common group goal even if the goal is just to be more relaxed and less reactive. There is power in numbers. Believe it or not, there are studies that prove the existence of a ripple effect of peace in the surrounding environment when a group meditates together. According to the unified field superstring theory in physics, waves of vibration flow from everything in the universe affecting the collective consciousness. Groups have the power to enliven that field. Cellular biologist Bruce Lipton states in his book “Biology of Belief” that our consciousness can change the physical world around us by altering the field. An interesting experiment tested a theory called “The Maharishi Effect” in Merseyside, England. A number that exceeded one percent of the population meditated together every day from 1988 to 1991, and the crime rate dropped so much that Merseyside went from third highest to the lowest-ranked city in England during the time of the analysis. Meanwhile, the control town of non-meditators held a steady crime rate. Meditation was the only factor in the study that could account for the change, as the scientists calculated that police practices, local economics, and demographics remained the same throughout the study.